Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman .
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Civil Service Commission has asked the head of the police investigative unit, Mani Yitzhaki, to provide it with information as to whether the police intend to open an investigation into the various subjects of a Channel 2 report on the Health Ministry and Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman.
The piece showed undercover reporters claiming to be representatives from an e-cigarette company paying for meetings with senior ministry officials, as well as with Litzman himself. Channel 2 also reported that the minister has met with representatives from tobacco company Philip Morris International in breach of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to which Israel is signatory.
The letter was sent to allow the commission to consider whether or not to open its own disciplinary investigation into activities of civil service employees involved in Channel 2’s investigative report. If the police do not open an investigation, the commission says it will likely conduct its own inquiry.
In the letter, the head of the commission’s disciplinary department wrote that “links have apparently been exposed between the minister and tobacco companies,” business publication TheMarker reported. Potentially criminal acts of the go-between from Hamodia newspaper, who arranged the meetings with Litzman in return for cash payments, were also exposed.
The commission would, in particular, be examining the involvement of Health Ministry deputy director Prof. Itamar Gruto and Litzman’s personal assistant, Moti Babchik.
In 2015, Litzman opposed bills that would prohibit tobacco advertising in newspapers and require packages to bear graphic warnings.
Last week, the Association for Advanced Democracy called on Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to investigate Litzman and his connections to Hamodia.
The association, an independent nonprofit body, maintained that Litzman had given instructions to his underlings, including public health professionals, not to take action to reduce smoking by legislation or other measures.
Amos Hausner, chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, said Litzman turned down every suggestion he made to curtail smoking, including prohibiting smoking rooms and requiring graphic images of the bodily damage inflicted by cigarettes to be placed on packaging.
Judy Siegel contributed to this report.